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Phil Mickelson mulls struggles at Sawgrass

Although golf's elite events tend to produce blue-chip winners, Phil Mickelson cannot explain why only two members of the world's current top 10 have triumphed at the Players Championship.

Top-ranked Tiger Woods won the prestigious title in 2001 and Australia's Adam Scott, the world number nine, became the tournament's youngest champion at the age of 23 in 2004.

But fourth-ranked Mickelson, Vijay Singh (two), Retief Goosen (three) and Ernie Els (five) have failed to follow suit in the game's unofficial 'fifth major'.

"Why myself or Ernie or Vijay or Retief haven't won this tournament, it's hard to say because we've all had decent chances," left-hander Mickelson told reporters at the TPC at Sawgrass on Tuesday as he prepared for Thursday's opening round.

"I haven't had as many chances here as I would have liked or would have thought. But why the other guys haven't played well here, I don't know.

"It's a course that, if you play well, can suit anybody's game. I just don't know why we haven't put it together."

Mickelson, 2004 U.S. Masters champion and winner of last year's U.S. PGA Championship at Baltusrol, pinpoints the strength of the field and the nature of the par-72 Stadium Course as contributing factors.

"I do think the course is a course that doesn't favour any one style of play," the 35-year-old American said.

"When the rough was added and made so thick around the greens, I think it gave an advantage to the player who kept it a little bit shorter and a little bit straighter.

"But because the greens are small and tough to hit, there's also an advantage to a guy who can hit it a little bit longer. Whoever plays well that week is the guy that has the advantage."

Although surprise packages like American Fred Funk last year and New Zealand's Craig Perks in 2002 have captured the Players crown, former world number ones Fred Couples, Nick Price, Greg Norman and David Duval have also triumphed.

"Certainly the depth of field makes it a very difficult tournament to win," Mickelson added.

"We've had some winners that we expect to win, like when Norman was playing well, when Price was dominating the way he did and when Duval played so great in '99.

"And then we had some players that maybe some people would say were a surprise. Why that is the case, I don't know. It probably is a credit to what a deep field this is and how deep the Tour is as far as the quality of play."

Whether or not the Players Championship ever becomes golf's fifth official major, it always attracts the strongest field of the year and Mickelson will continue to accord it due respect.

"I try to prepare for this tournament just as I do the majors, come in and spend a lot of time on the golf course and learn," he said.

"I have extensive notes over the years on where to hit it, how not to, how putts break, which ones are deceptive and which ones are not."

He was open-minded, though, when asked if he thought the tournament would eventually be bracketed alongside the Masters, the U.S. Open, the British Open and the U.S. PGA Championship.

"I don't think there's any magic in four majors," Mickelson replied.

"I think that there are four tournaments that tend to stand out with history and challenge and strength of field and so forth. This is becoming one of those.

"Whether we want to stick by traditions and say there's only four or not, it doesn't really matter.

"The Masters didn't start until the early 30s, and that quickly became a very prestigious tournament. You just never know what will happen in time."

March 22, 2006


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